Title: The Darkness Knows
Author: Cheryl Honigford
Release Date: August 2016
Rating: 4/5 stars
Although I’m not a big mystery reader, I am a big fan of 1930’s film noir and detective stories, so when I learned about The Darkness Knows, which centers on a radio star in 1938 Chicago solving a mystery, I knew I had to pick it up. If you’re a fan of old-school detective stories but yearn for a female lead, this book does not disappoint. Vivian Witchell, a rising star at a Chicago radio station, is trying to make it in the industry and find independence from her life of wealth and privilege. Meanwhile, a murder, a mysterious fan note, and a handsome P.I. interrupt her career path and turn her into a makeshift sleuth. Vivian works with Charlie Haverman, the P.I. consultant on her detective serial radio show, to solve the murder of a well-known but not well-liked colleague at the radio station. In an industry where would-be stars will do anything to get ahead, there seem to be enemies everywhere, but Vivian is smart, capable, and observant, making her an excellent amateur sleuth. I also appreciated that Vivian wasn’t a prude or judgemental about sex, which I always enjoy in a leading character.
Besides Vivian’s plucky attitude and strong personality, I also enjoyed Charlie’s character. He’s tough, but is willing to listen to Vivian’s feedback and ideas. He also appreciates that she’s a modern woman and not looking to dumb herself down to appeal to a man, and he has the tough guy appeal without coming off as an alphahole. I found him to be an appealing lead, and was rooting for him and Vivian to get together in the end. This book, the first in a series, is subtitled a Viv and Charlie Mystery, so hopefully I can look forward to future sleuthing with this likeable pair.
In addition to the well-written leads, the side characters were also a lot of fun to read about. There were some of the stereotypical noir-ish characters, but I enjoy that; the femme fatale, the dashing but fame-obsessed male lead, and everyone has a mysterious past. I did think that Viv’s best friend, Imogene, could have gotten a little more screen time and been fleshed out more. She seemed like an important part of Viv’s life, but we barely got to know her. This book does take place over a relatively short period of time, however, so that may be why.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere of 1930’s Chicago really came through in the storytelling. The author clearly did her research, and you could easily visualize the places that the characters visited. If you are a fan of The Thin Man series or any late 1930’s films, you could easily picture the clothing and the glitzy nightclubs, plus the seedy Chicago backstreets as well. Chicago played a big role in the appeal of the story, and the reader is rooted in that era throughout the story. Overall, this lends a light, escapist tone to The Darkness Knows, and I could easily see this being developed into a television show a la Miss Fisher’s Mysteries.
As far as the mystery aspect goes, I admit that I haven’t read a lot of mysteries (unless you count Nancy Drew books as a child), so maybe I’m a little easier to please than die-hard mystery fans. There were some good twists to the mystery, and good pacing to keep the excitement level up, but I did think that the mystery would have been much simpler to solve if a few characters (not naming names) had spoken up and connected the dots a bit earlier. Plus, Vivian seemed to be telling everyone anything and maybe shouldn’t have revealed all of her cards to so many people. It seems like more could have been done to complicate the mystery while still making it believable and readable. Still, any flaws with the mystery aspect didn’t take away from how much fun I had reading this story. If you need a book that is escapist and engrossing, I definitely recommend The Darkness Knows, and look forward to reading the second installment at the end of the year!